Authenticity and Personal Branding

I recently came across a fantastic article by Kathy Hansen of A Storied Career. The debate Kathy is curating in this article centers around whether or not authenticity can coexist with a personal brand. Oliver Blanchard, a well-known social media expert, insists that it cannot. “People are people.” He says. “They aren’t brands. When people become ‘brands,’ they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. … Can you realistically remain ‘authentic’ and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?”

What do you think? Are you a sell out if you deliberately choose an aspect of yourself that you want the world to see? Is it possible to be genuine and, at the same time, market yourself in a particular fashion? Does your resume necessarily have to be a sham and your business card a gimmick? I answer these questions without a resounding, “No!” Yes, I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Blanchard. Personal branding is not disingenuous. As a matter of fact, I think the only way to achieve authenticity that matters is to make personal branding the central focus of your existence. Here’s why…

Someone is Telling Your Story…

…so it might as well be you. People perceive you a certain way, regardless of whether or not you do anything about it. When you pay no attention to your image, you are essentially leaving it up to others to define you. You are defaulting to their perceptions of you. You are letting them tell your story. You are giving up control of your brand.

Personal branding is simply taking control of the person you want to be. It’s a philosophy of living consciously as opposed to passively. Yes, you can be authentic without worrying about your personal brand. But you will be merely an authentic product of your environment. You will be the defined instead of the definer. And what’s the point of living if you’re just going to sit idle and watch life happen to you?

Not a Mask; a New Face

Perhaps some of the confusion around personal branding comes from a misunderstanding of branding itself. In business, (good) branding is not just slapping on a label and trying to change perceptions with it. Rather, it involves complete reengineering of business processes, products, and intended customers. Product development is an integral part of product branding; so also is personal development an integral part of personal branding. It’s about a change in disposition just as much as it is a change in presentation.

Scott Ginsberg is probably the most lucid example of personal branding that I’ve ever seen. He lives his brand. As of today, he has worn his iconic “Hello, My Name is Scott” name tag for 4,111 consecutive days, and even has its image tattooed on his chest. His personal brand? Approachability.

Maybe that’s not you. Maybe you can’t pin yourself down to a single purpose. That’s fine. You’re personal brand can and probably will be multi-dimensional. The key is have an answer when you ask yourself, “Who am I?

It isn’t about pretending. It’s about becoming. It’s about taking control of the person you want to be. Whether you call it a story or brand, the principle is the same. If you don’t define it, someone else will. Don’t ever believe someone when they tell you that you can’t reinvent yourself. You can. And you can do it with sincerity.

So, go. Brand yourself. And don’t apologize to the naysayers who would rather float aimlessly through life in the name of authenticity than take a stand for something important.

featured image courtesy of jon.cdiaz licensed via Creative Commons
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